EL CENTRO — An informal survey of local public school districts suggests that overall enrollment is at levels comparable to last school year, with those experiencing slightly lower numbers indicating that the drops may not necessarily be due to COVID-19.
Of the six local school districts that responded to an inquiry about their respective enrollment amid the pandemic, half reported comparably lower enrollment than the 2019-20 school year.
Of those three, the San Pasqual Valley Unified School District indicated that, although enrollment has been on the decline for several years, the current drop may be due to the pandemic.
Similarly, the Heber Elementary School District reported lower enrollment that was attributable to the pandemic.
Last year, SPVUSD had enrolled 654 students and, as of Sept. 2, had 607 students enrolled in transitional-kindergarten through 12th grade. The biggest decline this year was observed in the district’s state-funded preschool, which has 22 slots available and only 10 filled.
“I do believe the preschool is due to COVID-19 and the full distance-learning model,” SPVUSD Superintendent Rauna Fox stated in an email. “Also, I believe many of our parents have not enrolled due to fear of infection.”
Fox’s assessment regarding the missing preschoolers appears to align with those of some large metropolitan public school districts that have experienced reduced enrollment in the lower grades, and in particular kindergarten and transitional-kindergarten.
Those absences are being attributed to the inability of parents to provide sufficient distant learning support for very young children at home, according to media reports.
Heber Elementary School District this year has also experienced an overall drop in enrollment of about 100 students.
Its transitional-kindergarten (T-K) has about 10 fewer students than the last school year, while approximately 25 fewer students had enrolled in kindergarten as of Sept. 2.
Second- and third-grade classrooms are down about 50 students in total, while the upper grades have experienced an overall loss of about 15 students in comparison to the 2019-20 school year.
HESD Superintendent Juan Cruz stated the district had to reclassify three teachers on account of the shifts in enrollment.
"We attribute the drop in enrollment to COVID related issues," Cruz said in an email. "We noticed families dropping out of school shortly after the closing of campuses in the spring."
Locally, the largest drop in enrollment has been observed within the Calexico Unified School District, where a total of 8,719 students had registered as of Sept. 2, compared to last year’s 8,971, a difference of 252.
Enrollment decreases have been evident in T-K, kindergarten and in the seventh-grade population. With registration and residency verification ongoing, the current enrollment figure was expected to rise in the intervening days.
Though there was no evidence to attribute the slight decrease in enrollment to issues related to COVID-19, district officials are ascribing the decline to a lower number of students in each generation in attendance.
Elsewhere, the Imperial Unified School District reported its T-K enrollment was down about seven students, and down about 37 kindergarten students from last year. However, overall enrollment for the TK-12 district was comparable to last school year, Superintendent Bryan Thomason said.
“TK and Kinder numbers are lower this year, but not significantly lower than IUSD has had in prior years,” Thomason stated in an email. “Kinder numbers do fluctuate from year to year.”
Similarly, the Central Union High School District has not experienced an overall decline in enrollment. Demand to enroll in its schools, which include Central Union, Southwest and Desert Oasis high schools, remained high, said Superintendent Ward Andrus.
“We are at or above capacity, depending on grade, program or location,” Andrus said in an email.
Though the El Centro Elementary School District had anticipated a decrease in enrollment for the current school year, no such downturn has materialized.
As of Sept. 2, total enrollment for kindergarten stood at 515 students, an increase of 10 over the 2019-20 school year. Overall enrollment within the TK-8 district stood at 5,293, a difference of 14 students compared to last year, and not considered a significant number considering registration remained ongoing.
Superintendent Jon LeDoux said the district was expecting lower enrollment this school year based on anecdotal evidence that many of its students had moved away during the summer to live with extended family in others counties, states or in Mexico due to the high rate of COVID-19 in the Valley.
Also, when ECESD had initially discussed adopting a hybrid model of onsite and distant learning, a significant number of parents indicated they would opt to homeschool their own children, or have them stay with relatives in other areas, LeDoux stated in an email.
“I think the fact that we are offering only virtual learning at this time has been a relief to many of these parents, and we are happy they chose to trust us to provide our services to their children during this difficult time,” LeDoux said.
Editor's note: This article was updated to include a follow up remark by HESD Superintendent Juan Cruz.